Since I was a little girl, I loved learning about science and animals. You could even say I was a bit of a fanatic. When friends would come to my house to play, I would make them give presentations about animals based on the information found in my beloved Animal Fact and File Cards. I would tell my family that when I died, I wanted my body to be left in the African savanna so the lions could eat me; something my mom still teases me about from time to time. Even as a small child, I knew science would be my life.
Then I got sick. It began as a constant painful upset stomach. I was feeling tired all the time. Then the bleeding started. I was terrified, exhausted and ashamed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me but I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I kept it to myself. I would sit around wondering what I had done to bring this on myself. It was over a year of having symptoms before I finally told my mom. When I was about eight years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s has been an incredibly destructive force in my life. It, and the chronic anxiety it brings, has controlled my life for as long as I can remember. It’s always there, influencing every decision I make. Dictating what I can and can’t do, where I can and can’t go, what I can and can’t eat or drink. Crohn’s made getting though school, and life, very difficult. I couldn’t focus anymore. I felt angry, sad and isolated all the time. Some days I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of bed. When I did actually make it to school, I would often have to spend the majority of the day sick in the bathroom. My childhood memories are mostly of doctor visits, hospital stays, the horrible side effects from the medications prescribed and the loneliness Crohn’s has caused me.
Despite all of this, I knew what I wanted and nothing was going to stop me, not even my own failing body. I worked hard and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology with a minor in Spanish and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management. I went on to take a job with an environmental agency. I hoped it would be fulfilling and make me feel like everything I had struggled through had been worth it. I realized immediately that it would not be the job I was hoping for. The work was basically data entry for people with science degrees. Constant issues with management left much of the staff feeling unappreciated and disengaged. The turnover rate was shockingly high because many felt as though management saw them as completely disposable. It was a very depressing place to spend 40 hours of your life every week for years. I feel that place caused me to lose my passion and drive for life.
During this time, I felt stuck in a relationship with someone I had nothing in common with. From the beginning I wanted things to change but any time I expressed even the slightest negative feeling towards our situation, he would freak out and guilt me into tolerating it. Everyday was the same dissatisfied boredom and I was incredibly unhappy. I decided that I needed a break from the monotony and wanted to take a group vacation to Costa Rica for my 30th birthday. I talked about it for weeks and began planning. Several friends had already committed to the trip when he had one of his meltdowns. He made me feel so guilty and selfish for wanting to take this trip that I cancelled it. Then, a couple of months before my birthday, I couldn’t take it anymore. After two years, I finally ended the relationship. I hated myself for letting someone else influence my life choices so much and for so long. I vowed that I would never forgo my own happiness to appease someone else ever again.
I began focusing on bettering myself. Going to yoga more often. Trying to meditate, which is a huge challenge for someone with a mind that does nothing but bounce from one insane worry to the next obsessively. I tried to think about positive things. The idea of a taking a solo vacation kept coming into my mind. When my birthday came, my friends threw me a great surprise party. I felt loved and thankful to have so many amazing people in my life.
A week or so later, I had my first sensory deprivation experience. It was exciting and calming while also being somewhat unsettling. Something happened in there. I’m not sure what. On the drive home, I realized I had decided that I was not just going to take a solo vacation. I had made the decision to quit the job I loathed and go spend several months in South America. I eventually chose beautiful Ecuador as my destination country. The Galápagos Islands have always fascinated me and I felt it would be the perfect place to reignite my passion for science and living life. I will be living on San Cristóbal Island for three weeks while I do volunteer conservation work with the Ubelong organization. I will also spend a month living in a yoga ashram. During this time I will focus on meditation and mindfulness while I obtain my yoga teacher certification at Durga’s Tiger School – Casa Kiliku outside of Quito. Yoga and meditation have become great tools for easing my Crohn’s symptoms and calming my mind. I hope that by taking my practice deeper, I will find a place where Crohn’s and anxiety are no longer an issue.
As excited as I am, I’m also terrified. I have no idea what will happen over there. Maybe everything will be wonderful and it will be the best decision I have ever made. Maybe I will be sick and alone the whole time and it will be awful. Regardless of what happens, I will be satisfied knowing that it was a decision I made for myself, in spite of the fear. Crohn’s disease has been the biggest obstacle in my life, but it will be an obstacle I continue to overcome everyday. Now is my time. No more 40-hour weeks in windowless cubicles doing soul sucking passionless work. No more dealing with people who hold me back from what I want. And especially no more going through life letting fear dictate my level of happiness. Fear took my childhood and a significant portion of my adulthood away from me but now I decide what I’ll do, where I’ll go and what I’ll eat and drink. There is no point in limiting myself anymore. It will be with me no matter what and I refuse to let it keep me from the things I want any longer.